Sunderland academic takes a bite out of video nasties

A Sunderland academic is taking another look at the '˜Video Nasties' once blamed for morally corrupting children.

Wednesday, 15th August 2018, 6:00 am
Dr Mark McKenna.

Labelled obscene, Video Nasties, as they were dubbed, became a media sensation in the 1980s and were seized upon by social commentators as a symbol of technology leading us down an immoral path.

Violent, graphic imagery on the cover of the videos, coupled with disturbing content, made them the forbidden fruit of the film world.

Some of the most well-known titles included, Driller Killer, The Last House on the Left, Cannibal Holocaust, The Evil Dead and I Spit on your Grave.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Now, University of Sunderland academic, Dr Mark McKenna, is re-examining the controversial genre and has urged people to hit the pause button on writing off these horror flicks.

He has been presenting his “Rethink of Video Nasties” paper at a film conference in Europe.

In it, Dr McKenna takes a look at the wider reasons behind society’s outcry at the films and examines how, over the following decades, they became highly prized cult classics.

He said: “In the early 80s these video releases were not brought before the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) due to a loophole in classification laws, which said the films did not need to be submitted to them.

“This led to the distribution of films from America and Europe which became known as ‘Video Nasties’, leading to public debate concerning the availability of these films to children due to the unregulated nature of the market.”

The widespread distribution of the films in the newly emerging video market prompted an outcry that saw prominent figures like Mary Whitehouse and The National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA) demand the films be banned – and in some cases prosecution – of the movies and their distributors.

Dr McKenna takes a look at reactions to the films in a wider context, examining what was happening in British society at the time, as well as the film industry’s fears over the emerging video market.

He said: “The Conservative Government was struggling in the aftermath of the Brixton and Toxteth riots, the sinking of the Belgrano, and by reacting to the issue of Video Nasties they could demonstrate resolve to a largely fictitious problem.

“What we have to remember is that this type of reaction is nothing particularly new. In the 1950s comic books were causing the same type of outcry, while in more recent years, the internet and social media have been blamed for many of society’s ills.

“The emergence of the home video market was also a threat to the cinema industry who felt their share of the marketplace could be compromised. An effort to suppress it followed.”

A book based upon Dr McKenna’s research, Nasty Business: The Marketing and Distribution of the Video Nasties, will be published next year.